Thursday, December 14, 2017

2017 Edina Holiday Classic Preview

The Edina Holiday Classic is an annual tradition, a three day showcase, featuring the Edina Hornets, Eden Prairie Eagles, Elk River Elks, and Grand Rapids Thunderhawks. The 36th edition takes place Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at legendary Braemar Arena. Braemar is one of my favorite rinks to watch a game in the metro with it's intimate seating arrangement and trademark low ceiling providing for good acoustics. This is an event I have followed closely for the seven or eight years, and it is something I look forward to every December.

Last year's showcase raised expectations that will be impossible to exceed. It featured four of the top six teams in the state, making for some memorable, close games. On paper, this year will see a bit of a drop off, but Edina and Eden Prairie enter the showcase as top ten teams, ranked first and ninth respectively, by State of Hockey/Let's Play Hockey. Elk River is on the top ten bubble, coming in at number 11, and Grand Rapids looks to make a statement after early season struggles this year, arriving as an unranked team.

Game Schedule

Elk River vs. Eden Prairie, 6:00 pm
Edina vs. Grand Rapids, 8:30 pm

Eden Prairie vs. Grand Rapids, 6:00 pm
Elk River vs. Edina, 8:30 pm

Grand Rapids vs. Elk River, 6:00 pm
Edina vs. Eden Prairie, 8:30 pm

Here is a look at the teams:

#1 Edina

The top ranked Hornets have dominated the Holiday Classic since 2005, posting the best record of the four participating teams. After a 1-2 record last year as the lowest ranked team in the showcase at number six, undefeated Edina looks to reclaim the crown as a result of a wider gap in the competition, attributed to a team loaded with star power. Five Division I college commits are on the roster: Demetrios Koumontzis (Center, 10 points, Arizona State), Sammy Walker (Center, 9 points, Minnesota), Jett Jungels (Left Wing, 7 points, Northern Michigan), Ben Brickman (Defense, 6 points, Minnesota), and Jake Boltmann (Defense, 2 points, Minnesota). That does not even include other offensive standouts such as, Lewis Crosby (8 points), Mason Nevers (8 points), and Liam Malmquist (7 points). The Hornets have only allowed 5 goals in their four games this season, and goaltender Garrett Mackay has posted a very impressive .946 save percentage in three of those games. This will be a fun team to watch over the three days. While the matchup with Grand Rapids could get out of hand with the wide talent gap between the two teams, Eden Prairie and Elk River should be respectable opponents for the Hornets. History shows the Edina vs. Eden Prairie games tend to be narrow margin affairs. Since 2005, 8 of the 12 contests, or two-thirds, at the Holiday Classic have been two goal differences or less.

#9 Eden Prairie

Eden Prairie posted a disappointing 1-2 record at the 2016 Classic as the number one team in the state. The Casey Mittelstadt era is over with, and the Eagles enter the season with a new identity. The star of the team is junior Jack Jensen, a Minnesota commit, with 6 points. The Eagles still have a Mittelstadt presence on the roster as Casey's younger brother, John, with a strong start on varsity, scoring 5 points so far. Other scoring threats on the team are forwards Ryan Lesko, Joey Graen, Rhode Island import Chris Konin, and Carson Jones, who has made a nice transition from the junior varsity roster. This is a nice team that runs about two lines deep. Playing more games should assist team chemistry with the roster turnover. If the Eagles can pull off wins against Elk River and Grand Rapids, and be at least competitive against Edina, that should be enough to keep them in the top ten. A win against Edina could boast them into the top five, depending on other factors.

#11 Elk River

The Elks were 2-1 at last year's Edina Classic as the state's number four team ranked team. Elk River has turned a bunch of heads early this year with a trio of eight goal games to start before falling to sixth ranked Centennial, 6-3. The standout on this team is junior Jack Perbix, a Notre Dame commit, with 14 points on the year. Other skilled players capable of scoring are forwards Connor Bizal and University of Nebraska-Omaha commit Zach Michaelis. Two-way defenseman Joey Foss is capable of finding the net and has nine points. This team is not as deep as Edina or Eden Prairie, but should at least get one win in the showcase over Grand Rapids, and could possibly grind out a victory against Eden Prairie to go 2-1. Elk River gets Edina on the second night, which may equate to a competitive game if they can catch the Hornets off-guard with the back-to-back games and playing mistake-free hockey.

Grand Rapids

The defending state champion Grand Rapids Thunderhawks come into 2017 with a much different look than their 2016 counterparts that featured Micah Miller, Blake McLaughlin, and Gavin Hain and went 2-1 at the Classic as the number three ranked team. That trio has since departed, along with coach Trent Klatt, leaving not much behind. After starting this year with three losses, including a pair to two Class A schools (Greenway and Virginia), the Thunderhawks responded against northwestern Minnesota icons Roseau and Warroad with wins. Mike Heitkamp, a solid defenseman, returns this year with four points thus far, and forward Nano DeGuiseppi has been an assist machine with all five points coming as such. Grand Rapids is really going to have to fight their way to win any of the games over the three days, and will be a big underdog against Edina. A win over Edina will no doubt be the highlight of the season, and perhaps rival any accomplishments from last season. An overlooked Grand Rapids team could make a splash in the showcase.

If you can not make it to Braemar this year, all games will be available for streaming from the State of Hockey website.

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